Beijing or Shanghai?

This week’s trip to Beijing proved to be the most challenging, if a trip can be called such. The weather gave each of us a fierce fight. As soon as we arrived at Beijing Nan Station and met our guide, Erik, we were immediately told that the next morning we would leave at 8 am for the Great Wall. According to our itinerary, the Great Wall trip was scheduled for later in the week. Unfortunately, with the possibility of snow, the trip had to be earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It snowed the morning after we returned to Beijing. This day was meant for touring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We walked through two-inch deep water with our umbrellas in hand, each shouting loud expletives along the way. Having been able to take many beautiful pictures at other tourist spots, this day proved to be most challenging. Thankfully, the other days were much better for sightseeing and shopping. While I enjoyed my time in Beijing, I do not see myself spending much time there in the future. The people are less fashionable and overall China’s capital seems less like a global city than its southern counterpart, Shanghai.

Having visited Suzhou, Taiwan, Nanjing, and now Beijing, I am realizing that I am thinking the same thing after each trip. I miss Shanghai. The idea of returning to my “home” fills me with excitement. After traveling to these places, I asked myself, where are my tall buildings? Where is the nightlife? Of course I compare it all to my experiences in Shanghai.

Can I consider Shanghai specifically Chinese? Granted it is in China; therefore, my previous question cannot be disputed by territorial definition. What about culturally? By Chinese standards, Shanghai is a fairly new city filled with many internationals, visiting and living in the city. Many restaurants and clubs cater to the western audience. The buildings even resemble those seen in Europe. I guess Shanghai has captured my heart just like New York City did this past summer. How will I ever be able to leave this place?

Fake Goods, Real Money

After reading some of Yi-Chieh Jessica Lin’s book, Fake Stuff: China and the Rise of Counterfeit Goods, I thought back to the first time I encountered a fake goods market. I was eleven years old and in the sixth grade. My step-dad had just been offered a job in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mom and I were excited to tag along for a quick four-day trip to the “Big Easy.” It was my first time missing school for a reason other than illness.

While in New Orleans, we spent most of our time shopping. I guess I had it bad from an early age—I just had to visit Saks Fifth Avenue. Of course, I could only afford a pair of navy blue Polo dress socks but that didn’t matter to me. I still had a purchase from one of the most well-known stores in the world. After Saks we stumbled upon The French Market, a covered shelter filled with vendors selling produce, handmade baskets, souvenir t-shirts, and jewelry. Some vendors sold purses. Many of which resembled those found at Saks and boutiques. Mom immediately began to bargain. Working as a teacher meant that no vendor was going to “steal” her money. Each time she went to the market she left with at least one purse, sometimes two.

This past summer I lived in New York City. Many of the fake goods sold in New York can be found on Canal Street in Chinatown. New York fake goods sellers have to be stealthier about their marketing and selling techniques. Many of the sellers walk around with large plastic bags filled with Louis, Gucci, and Fendi. If a cop is spotted, then a quick getaway is possible.

Shanghai seems to be less worried about selling fake goods. Located on West Nanjing Road, Han City Fashion and Accessories is a three-story mall dedicated to selling fake watches, purses, headphones, shoes, clothes, and even eyeglasses. You could spend an entire day in the mall. Don’t worry, there is a food court just in case you get hungry. Those of you who visited Shanghai five or six years ago might remember Xiangyang Market. Han City is where many of the vendors from that market have relocated.

During my time in Shanghai I have visited the fake market at least three times and have walked away with only two items. While I enjoy bargaining, I just can’t fathom paying the high prices for fake goods, the quality of which, I am unaware of. I also know that since I’m a westerner, the price of a good automatically increases when I walk into a vendor’s booth.

After reading Fake Stuff, maybe I should feel better about buying fake goods. Supposedly the quality can be just as good as the real thing. You just have to keep an eye out for the good fake stuff.

The group will travel to Beijing on Thursday. I have heard the Silk Market there is one of the best places to find fake goods. Fingers crossed! Time is running out. I need to buy some gifts for Mom and Memal (my grandma).

Taipei’s Night Markets

Yes. You can use Facebook. No. They do not spit as you walk past. Yes. Cars stop for pedestrians. No. The cars do not swerve in and out of the designated lanes. Most certainly the people of Taiwan are the nicest and well-mannered people I have encountered in quite some time. Nothing beats hearing an “excuse me” as someone crosses in front of you.

A less than two hour flight covering 432 miles gets you to Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport. After a forty minute ride you can be in Taipei City—Taiwan’s capital. This past weekend the group visited Taipei, Taiwan, or as known to those in Taiwan, Taibei (台北). We arrived at night in what I thought to be a Las Vegas imitation. Flashing lights and signs adorned almost every building near our hotel.

If you are eager to jump right into Taipei’s shopping world, then a trip to a night market is just for you. After arriving at our hotel, the group went to Shilin Night Market, only a few metro stops away from us. Shilin is one of the most famous night markets in Taipei. While I acted like a six year old at Disney World and wanted everything I saw, I left empty handed. Don’t worry; I made up for it the other nights.

The shopping experience in Taipei is very different from the shopping experience in Shanghai. If I want to shop in Shanghai, I have to get to Qipu Road Clothing Market before it closes at 6pm. Since I feel guilty going shopping before I finish my homework, it is difficult to make a trip to Qipu during the week. Night markets in Taipei are open from late afternoon until midnight and some are open later on weekends. The concept of a night market allows you to work, explore Taipei, or be lazy during the day, and then enjoy a nighttime shopping spree.

While Taipei has several night markets, I only visited the Shilin Night Market and the Wufenpu Night Market. Shilin is a mix of clothing vendors (those with whom you can bargain), food vendors, and actual stores. Wufenpu lacks food vendors and most of the stores are willing to bargain with you. Be careful, though! Most stores at Wufenpu are not equipped with dressing rooms.

Do I prefer shopping in Shanghai or shopping in Taipei? I must say that I prefer shopping in Taipei. The clothes are are better quality, and I seemed to be better at bargaining with Taiwanese people, or maybe I paid more than I actually realize. If you find yourself visiting Taipei anytime soon, visit Shilin. Grab a bite to eat and start shopping. There’s nothing better!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chinese Education

Walking down the street during any given hour of any given day you will notice people. People are everywhere. Considering I try to spend my time free time out shopping or just walking around, I am out and about during normal study hours. Many of these people I see are college age. Having heard of the selective Chinese education system, it is shocking to see young people out and about all the time. Shouldn’t they be studying?

This past Sunday marked the second tutoring session with Billy, and this time he read to me. His father wanted him to read a story several times aloud and then summarize the story in his own words. I listened to him read and corrected the words he mispronounced.

While walking me to the metro station after the lesson, Billy told me about his friend who lives below him on the seventeenth floor. As he told me how he enjoys playing with his friend, his dad quickly stated, “But Billy doesn’t have time to play a lot. Chinese kids are always studying.” Billy’s dad asked me, “During your younger years of school, did you take any tests?” I assumed he was referring to a science test or a reading quiz. Apparently, Billy has a test each month. From what I discerned, this monthly test is equivalent to the End of Grade test I took at the end of each school year. Unlike Chinese students, the SAT can be the only future-deciding test in an American child’s life.

Even after the one hour session with me, Billy continues his English language studies with another program. Remember, this happens on a Sunday, the weekend. After the session I could not help but think about the learning system in China compared to learning in the United States, specifically my experience of being taught Chinese at home and being taught Chinese in China.

During one Chinese class, my Chinese professor, Chen Laoshi, asked us to close our textbooks and focus on the white board. She had copied a few key sentences from the lesson’s story and asked us to insert the missing words. Not realizing that memorizing the story was required, I was caught off guard. I did not understand how memorizing a story would improve my Chinese language skills. Looking back at this and comparing my classroom experience with the tutoring session, I am realizing that Chinese education is all about memorizing. The Chinese language is based on memorizing characters, right? That might explain the rigorous learning system. Without knowing the characters, it is impossible to know the language. While memorizing dates and people are required for history majors, most American students are accustomed to using critical thinking skills.

The post-Mao years have allowed Chinese people the opportunity to succeed but with a price. While America has the supposed “American Dream” where anyone can make it, China isn’t so lucky. Chinese students have to study more to prove their worth. American students might study less than Chinese students, but to me, there is a happy medium between studying and knowing when to decompress, especially during one’s childhood.

On the flip side, China, with a rigorous education system, has an increasing younger generation influenced by the world around them capable of changing the country for the better, economically and environmentally.

 

Shanghai Living

A couple of weeks ago everyone in the group volunteered to help Chinese children improve their English. Fudan’s professor Shen Yifei assigned each of us a family, and within the last week, many of us met with our respective families. Today, I had the joy of meeting nine year old Billy, his mom, and dad.

After corresponding with Billy’s dad, we agreed he and his son would pick me up at 1:30 pm outside Tonghe, the international student village where I live. I knew they would arrive early, but I had no clue early meant twenty minutes early. When the phone rang at 1:10 pm, I answered, told Billy’s dad I would be right down, and quickly put on my shoes. I left in such a rush that I forgot my camera and metro card.

As soon as we entered the car and fastened our seat belts, Billy began asking me questions. If he did not know how to say a word in English, he asked his dad to translate for him. Billy wanted to know my age, if I liked Shanghai, my major, and if I had a girlfriend. Billy also asked me if I thought Chinese girls were as pretty as American girls.

When we arrived at their apartment complex, the car passed security and parked in front of building number two, one of at least ten, each with twenty floors.  After arriving on the eighteenth floor and Billy guiding me to his door, Billy’s mom greeted us with a warm welcome. Following traditional Chinese style I removed my shoes upon entering their home. Immediately, Billy handed me a soda and took me to see his room. Without realizing the location of their apartment building, when Billy’s mom moved back the curtains in his room so I could see, I was astonished. Billy has one of the best views in Shanghai. He can see the entire financial district, including the famous Pearl Tower. While his view is amazing, one thing could not escape my attention.

As I looked out the windows of their apartment I noticed other tall apartment buildings and the unforgettable Shanghai skyline, but I also noticed the severe poverty existing just outside the complex. A simple look down and one can see several “neighborhoods” with single-floor buildings, no more than two rooms in each “house”. Shanghai is covered with these so-called shantytowns. While I was able to see them looking down, it is not so easy to spot them while walking on the street. Many of these shacks are concealed behind walls. With China’s rapid economic development since the mid-1970s and 1980s, Shanghai has become a city with a definite distinction of the wealthy and of the poor living side by side. In many instances the poor are slowly being forced out. Even though I was thinking about Shanghai’s booming economy juxtaposed with its poverty, I had to revert back to my task of helping Billy.

Billy’s dad asked me to summarize a Thomas the Tran story. Summarize? It had been years since I last read anything about Thomas the Train. We were able to work out a system. I simplified the story as I read aloud, and Billy’s dad translated some words into Chinese to help his son understand the story. After finishing the book, to my surprise, Billy’s parents asked me if I would like to return every Sunday afternoon to help Billy with his English. I gladly agreed.

 

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